It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to blog. Now that my life is a bit more settled, I hope to be able to write and share my thoughts on a more frequent basis.
Over the last number of months, there’s been a fair bit of discussion in the social media world about how people describe their level of social media “expertise”. Terms like social media “expert”, “evangelist”, “guru” and, surprisingly, even “ninja” are used so frequently, it’s almost like there’s a fire sale on them.
Now, I am all for the progression of social media – I feel that it’s important for companies to leverage available tools and technologies in becoming more social and more human in the way they act, communicate and conduct business. Having people who are enthusiastic about social media, as well trained in and knowledgeable about social media tools and emerging technologies, is key to this progression.
However, unfortunately there is a significant credibility issue when it comes to people and their often self-proclaimed level of social media expertise. Social is evolving at such a breakneck speed, can anyone really claim to be an expert? In my opinion, no. Further, and more notably, many who claim to be experts actually lack formal marketing or communications experience – social media doesn’t exist by itself in a vacuum, it needs to be integrated with marketing, communications, customer service and other business functions!
This leads me to a key point I would like to make. There is one great way to judge someone’s knowledge of social media. Ask them this question:
What tangible business results have you created through your social media efforts?
The proof should be in the pudding. Even Bruce Lee can’t fake an answer to this question.
Buoyed by eagerness to reach customers on the social web, many businesses have endeavored to build personable, direct relationships with customers and other stakeholder groups using social media. Businesses realize the potential to create deeper connections and loyalty, which should ultimately lead to sales over the longer term customer life cycle. However, many businesses are uncertain how to participate and consequently, in my opinion, few truly take full advantage of the business potential associated with social media.
One key is to create a strong and vibrant online community of ambassadors for your brand. It’s true that the web has made building individual relationships cheaper and faster than what was previously possible. However, scaling such deep relationships over a broad base of stakeholders is, in most cases, neither feasible not effective.
Alternatively, companies that focus on building brand loyalty with a small subset of customers might find that their efforts have an exponential impact.
Here are several companies that have done this successfully:
Maker’s Mark is a small batch bourbon whiskey that is distilled in Loretto, Kentucky by Fortune Brands. For a number of years now, they’ve been running an ambassador program that is all about passion for their brand of bourbon. Maker’s Mark ambassadors receive access to a private online community, appropriately named “The Embassy”, through which they can receive a number of perks – including personalized business cards (ideal for handing out in bars), as well as having their name engraved on an actual barrel of Maker’s Mark bourbon. How cool is that? Additionally, amongst other things, ambassadors receive access to VIP tasting events and exclusive gift shop access.
Recently, while on a group hike near Toronto, I asked a fellow hiker if she had any recommendations on Toronto events and restaurants I should consider checking out. Immediately, she provided a few thoughts and strongly suggested that I create a profile on Yelp – a social networking, user review and local search website for members to post reviews and get user feedback on local businesses and restaurants. She’s actually a member of Yelp’s Elite Squad – a program through which Yelp rewards it’s top users, providing them with exclusive offers and access to members-only events. In addition to rewarding loyal users, the program provides a great incentive for other members to post additional reviews, making the site content stronger while keeping the broader community active and engaged.
In an earlier post on Community Management Best Practices, I referred to Fiskateers.com. Fiskars, a well-known brand of scissors, created a vibrant online community by focusing on a shared passion for many of it’s customers – scrapbooking. The company started by recruiting some of its most loyal customers to the community – branding them as Fiskateers. Fiskateer ambassadors receive a number of benefits, including access to exclusive meetup events and the opportunity to share their passion for scrapbooking with others in the private online community.
So, what did these companies do right? They built strong connections with the most passionate segment of their customer base. In doing so, they essentially put their customers to work for them – spreading word of mouth through their personal networks, inspiring new customers and spurring community growth.
Building connections with customers takes both commitment and recognition that social media can be a great tool for achieving businesses goals. In oder to attain a tangible return, business must be willing to make an investment – online and offline – as Maker’s Mark, Yelp and Fiskars all did. They didn’t just focus on counting Facebook Fans, they created social communities that generated value – for themselves, the ambassadors, and other customers.
Do you know any companies that have connected their most loyal customers through innovative brand ambassador programs? If so, please share!
Wow, do those words ever ring true. Thanks to a loyal, ardent fan base, and the power of social media, Vancouver Canucks fandom has risen to an entirely new level. Canucks fans have turned to social media to share their experiences and emotions, expressing themselves through compelling content ranging from short tweets to engaging videos. At the same time, the organization itself has really excelled at leveraging social media to encourage fan participation and build loyalty – and there is little doubt that the strength of the Vancouver Canucks brand has been significantly augmented as a result.
Let’s first look at fan participation in creating and sharing content. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the blogosphere have all been significant conduits for the spread of entertaining and engaging videos, images, and opinions on the Canucks.
Numerous fun, high quality videos have been created – many by relative amateurs. This one, a parody of Rebecca Black’s viral hit “Friday”, was posted on YouTube at the beginning of April and has already garnered over 320,000 views.
People have also developed Canuck-themed avatars, posting and sharing on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
The blogosphere is also abuzz with postings related to the Canucks. Enter the term “Canucks” in Google Blog Search, and over one million results are returned. No, not all are related to the team – but given limited alternative applications of the word “Canucks”, it’s a fairly good indicator of the conversations that are happening.
On top of all this, Twitter and Facebook truly enhance the experience of watching a Canucks game, by enabling people to partake in banter as the game unfolds – no matter where they are watching from.
Paralleling the fan generated content, the Canucks organization has really done a great job in engaging with fans through social media.
For starters, the Canucks have built a strong presence on Facebook, with over 445,000 fans, and Twitter, with over 113,000 followers. According to sportsfangraph.com, the Canucks rank 7th amongst NHL teams with respect to total following – and second amongst Canadian teams, trailing only the Montreal Canadiens. They also have a strong degree of activity in forums hosted on canucks.com.
Of course, numbers only tell part of the story. The Canucks have used their website and social media platforms to share compelling content including, for example, polished highlight videos, player interviews, and behind the scene glimpses of team activities. They also run fun, compelling contests that fans enjoy.
One neat social initiative the Canucks have launched for the playoffs is This is What We Live For – a website through which Canucks fans can help create a mosaic. Upon submitting a personal photo for the mosaic, people are asked to mention why they are a Canucks fan, and are then prompted to share the mosaic through Twitter or Facebook.
I find the mosaic itself to be quite fitting. Yes, fellow Canucks fans, We Are All Canucks.
More and more brands are truly embracing social media as an important component of their overall marketing and communications strategy. That’s the good news. However, unfortunately too many companies are focusing on the wrong metrics when it comes to gauging the success and business value of social media initiatives. Sure, it’s great to have hundred of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. But where’s the benefit if fans and followers aren’t engaged with the brand?
Companies must do what they can to inspire engagement and action from their fans – focusing on fan acquisition is simply not sufficient. One hundred engaged fans who can relate to a brand and share it’s core values are more valuable than one thousand passive fans. They’re more likely act in favor of a brand – speaking not only with their wallets, but also through recommendations to friends and family members.
Consumers are looking for companies to be more human-centric, and to show interest in the communities they already participate in. Companies that are currently doing a great job of this include Starbucks, Zappos, Converse and Lululemon. They realize that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are not broadcast mechanisms. Instead, they leverage available tools to build genuine relationships with their fans.
How are the relationships built? By providing a fair exchange of value. Companies must offer something meaningful to fans and followers, perhaps product, service or cause related, that generates goodwill and entices the community to spread word-of-mouth.
It’s not about numbers, it’s about relationships. Genuine relationships that will enable a community to grow and prosper.
We are going through some amazing, transformative times in the business world. I don’t think it’s a stretch to use those words. Digital technology and social media are providing unprecedented opportunities for companies to truly engage and build relationships with stakeholder groups, on a very direct, personalized and humanized one to one level. It’s scaled caring, to the point where companies and brands can create relationships with thousands of customers – and it’s what people are increasingly looking for in the brands they do business with.
Unfortunately, many companies do not yet fully realize or understand this. I have had a number of conversations with peers who work in marketing, communications and advertising – with companies and agencies. Many of them believe that the value and benefits associated with social media, particularly as presented by well-known social media bloggers and authors, are just hype – stating that they are far removed from present realities within the companies they work for or do business with.
Perhaps that is the case. Perhaps their realities are far different. If so, it is unfortunate, because their companies risk being left behind by competitors who embrace the social capabilities that digital enables – no matter which industry they operate in, no matter whether they are B2C or B2B.
Recently I sent a tweet to Gary Vaynerchuk, a well-known social media luminary and author of best-selling books Crush It! and The Thank You Economy, asking for his perspective on the issue. Gary was kind enough to record a video response, which he originally posted on garyvaynerchuk.com and I have re-posted here.
I have read both of Gary’s books, and I agree with Gary’s perspective. I think, in today’s day and age, it is necessary to have an entrepreneurial mindset – to be proactive, to search for new and emerging opportunities to engage with customers and grow business, and to be willing to take risks while doing so. Digital and social are evolving at breakneck speeds, it’s important to be mindful of new platforms which companies can leverage to build relationships with customers. Not all initiatives will be successful, but companies that employ a diverse, well-thought out range of engagement activities will uncover some that are “sticky” and favored by customers.
Having the right corporate culture, one that truly supports the new social paradigm, is also key. According to Jason Baker, Digital Strategist at Magnify Digital and Digicate, “The most important thing for any company is to focus on their culture and how their culture fits into telling their story in an authentic and genuine fashion. Anyone can know that you’re a social company. You can blabber on Twitter for as long as you want in 140 characters, but no one can truly connect with your business until you’ve identified your core values, personality, vision, purpose, and/ or cause. Ask the hard questions to extract those answers, then develop an integrated digital strategy that allows you to share those elements in a passionate, authentic, and genuine way.”
Collectively, we are all learning as we go – and sharing insights along the way. Age and experience in marketing and communications, while still important, are not the be all and end all. Look at the number of bright, young minds who are excelling in digital marketing – there are a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. Awesome!
That said, while lots of the talk is on social and digital, I don’t believe that traditional marketing is going away. Actually, I look forward to the day when traditional marketing and digital marketing just become known as “marketing”. I think there is a fantastic opportunity for companies to develop integrated campaigns across a variety of platforms, telling their brand story while engaging and building rapport with customers. Companies need to pick best platforms and engagement styles that are right for them.
It’s important to think strategically and realize that success in digital and social media will not happen overnight. At the same time, companies need to be nimble and fleet of foot, adopting a culture that enables engagement opportunities to be seized as they arise.
It goes without saying that the disaster in Japan is an absolutely profound tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many thousands more adversely impacted, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Let’s hope that the current nuclear situation is brought under control, and that radiation effects are kept to an absolute minimum.
Social media and digital technology have played a central role in the disaster on a number of levels – and no doubt have resulted in improved response and provision of aid to Japan. Here are three key positive impacts of social media.
1. Increased awareness of disaster realities
We used to just watch disaster coverage on television, hear about disasters on the radio, and read about them in newspapers. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, we witness travesties on a completely different level. Instead of seeing the after-effects devastation of a tsunami, we can actually watch a tsunami role in – from the personal perspective of whomever is holding the camera.
Through social media, people impacted by a disaster can share the realities of their situation, providing detailed personal accounts. The stories about Japan were passed around, they were shared, and we all grieved. On March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake, 177 million tweets were sent – well above the daily average of 140 million – and a significant number of new Twitter accounts were created
2. Improved disaster response
Social media has become pivotal in augmenting governmental and aid organization disaster response efforts. Facebook, Twitter, wikis and other tools facilitate collaboration and response to disasters on a truly global scale. Volunteer communities can mobilize quickly, regardless of geographical location, to provide varying types of expertise.
Moreover, mobile technology and applications such as Ushahidi allow disaster information to be crowdsourced and mapped – enabling ground level concerns and issues to be identified in a more immediate manner and responded to accordingly.
3. Enhanced fundraising
Social media facilitates fundraising through quick mobilization, ease of campaign set-up, and broad reach through massive social networks. Shortly after the Japan disaster struck, people at SXSW Interactive already began to mobilize a fundraising effort – SWSW4Japan. A website was created within a day, and over $100,000 was raised.
Worldwide, scores of local fundraising events were set up and promoted through social media.
With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.
Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).
1. Participate where the conversations are happening
This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality). Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.
2. Be timely with your responses
Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.
3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services. Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskateers.com. Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!
4. Be careful what you say
Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.
5. Don’t ignore negative comments
In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them. Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.
There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!
By all accounts, The Art of Marketing Conference held in Toronto on March 7th was a smashing success – as speakers provided the audience with cutting edge thoughts and insights on key marketing issues. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, however thanks the willingness of a number of audience members to share what they were learning through Twitter, I did get a flavor of what was being discussed.
Here are the top 50 takeaways I was able to glean from the Twitter stream!
It seems that we are only at the early stages of truly understanding how companies must adapt their business processes and resources to fully realize the potential associated with becoming a social organization. At the February 22nd Third Tuesday event in Toronto, Francois Gossieaux, co-author of The Hyper-Social Organization, shared some leading insights, supported by intriguing case studies and data, on why businesses must become hyper-social in order to survive and thrive in the era of social media.
According to Gossieaux, companies do not just need to understand Web 2.0 technologies, they also need to understand basic, if not primal, “human 1.0” tendencies.
Case-in-point, while we often tell others what we think we actually want, our decisions and actions often speak otherwise. Recently, JetBlue surveyed their passengers asking what kind of snacks they would like to receive during flights. Respondents indicated that they would like to receive healthy snacks, and JetBlue revised their offerings accordingly. However, as it turned out, the healthy snack offerings were not well-received.
Gossieaux also touched on people’s desire for status and power, and mentioned that he believes social leader boards will take off as a result. If you’re not familiar with social leader boards, they’re becoming prevalent in applications such as FourSquare, and are also being used in some online communities as a gaming mechanic. Participants earn points for completing various tasks, with leader boards indicating where people are on the power ladder – enabling comparison of rank and creating incentive to earn more points.
How can companies become more social? Here are a few key steps Gossieaux suggested companies focus on:
Become human-centric as opposed to company-centric. Be ready to engage with consumers wherever they are, using platforms they use. Hierarchical, fixed processes for response need to give way to nimbleness – people want responses to their suggestions, and fast.
Start thinking in terms of tribes, and not market segments (hat tip to Seth Godin – read more about tribes here). We have been hard-wired to think in a particular manner for eons, and this needs to be overcome.
Focus on knowledge networks, and not information channels. The most important conversations happen within networks of people, and not between company and community. To highlight this, Gossieaux cited a great stat from the McKinsey Report – 60 to 80% of all buying decisions are made without consumers receiving information directly from the brand!
Increase resources devoted to social. 67% of companies surveyed have only one-full time or part-time employee involved with social programs. Consider establishing a social media center for excellence – covering all departments.
Think culture, not technology. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are just tools. Leverage them to the best of your ability – but realize that tools will evolve, and be ready to use whatever is available.
As alluded to in my earlier post on Social Media Week, one of the hot-button topics that ensconced a number of presentations and discussions throughout the week was measurement and metrics. It seems that there is a fair bit of uncertainty, and correspondingly a lot of debate, on how to correlate social media activities with bottom line business results – and provide informed, proper analysis to senior management.
It’s no secret that there is a lot of gray area when it comes to measurement. Historically, for traditional marketing, marketers have focused on metrics such as brand awareness, brand perception and brand loyalty. While important, the accuracy and value of some of these metrics may not be as high as some perceive – particularly in the digital age, when start-ups can rise from relative obscurity rather quickly.
Engaged consumers now, more than ever, hold the true key to brand success. A company can benefit by building genuine relationships, leveraging social media, with key, well-connected consumers – brand advocates. As a result, traditional measures are evolving, and a variety of new tools and metrics – measuring, amongst other things, influence and sentiment – have been introduced.
Digital and social media are very measurable, perhaps more so than traditional media. But how meaningful are the measures for senior business managers who might still be entrenched in old paradigms? What can marketing and communications professionals do to effectively communicate the results of social media activities?
Here are a few key points that come to mind:
Educate. As the social media champion in an organization, be proactive and take the initiative to educate peers on emerging measurement methodologies and metrics – particularly with regards to influence and sentiment.
Set specific and realistic targets for social media activities. Where possible, quantify and correlate them to key business objectives. Emphasize the importance of the results (again, educate!).
Speak the language of business. Over the last year or so, some social media pundits have re-defined ROI as “Return on Influence”. While influence is important to evaluate, remember that business parlance for ROI is “Return on Investment”.
Having some sort of gauge for success is critical, enabling refinement of efforts based on key learning. Equally as critical, it’s important for company peers and cohorts to learn and understand the business value of social media activities.